We all know the usual suspects when it comes to World Cup glory. Pre-tournament favourites always read roughly the same: Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, Italy and occasionally France. Sometimes they have generous odds, but mostly there is no real value to be had at all. That’s where the art of the dark horse comes in.
So when we say ‘dark horse’ what exactly do we mean? Simply put we are talking about the less obvious. Everyone knows that Brazil have more than a good chance. Everyone knows Germany pose a huge threat. Dark horse is a term reserved for the unexpected, sometimes even the downright uninvited. Did anyone pick Holland over Germany to reach the finals in 2010? How about the third place play-off in the World Cup 2002 featuring international juggernauts South Korea and Turkey! These are the types of teams we are going to be talking about in this article. Who is poised to make a similar unexpected impact in 2014?
Outright odds: 13/1
Odds to reach the final: 13/2
We genuinely can’t stress a better value pre-tournament bet than this. Belgium has one of the most talented and exciting squads in the World Cup this year and look set to make a huge impact. The most terrifying aspect of Belgium is that they are balanced almost perfectly; they have a rock solid defence compromised of Manchester City talisman Vincent Kompany and Tottenham full back Jan Vertonghen, paired with a frightening attack of Chelsea’s star talent in Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. They shouldn’t even be considered outsiders in relative terms, but going into this tournament they are one of the most underrated nations we can remember in recent history. 13/1 to win outright is a straight up value bet, and the same goes for 13/2 to reach the final. Belgium is the very definition of a dark horse and should be top of your list for pre-tournament bets!
Outright odds: 25/1
Odds to reach the final: 25/2
The value of this bet largely depends on the fitness of Uruguay’s star player: Luis Suarez. If the pre-tournament surgery recovery goes well, Uruguay could be very dangerous force to be reckoned with heading into the World Cup. It is always going to help when your best player is undoubtedly in the top 3 players of the world, but Uruguay also pack dangerous weapons in other parts of the squad too. Not only do they boast Suarez in their attack but also Paris Saint Germain’s Edison Cavani, a prolific and hardworking striker who compliments the Liverpool man perfectly. Uruguay also has the benefit of being a South American nation playing in Brazil. Climate always plays a hidden part in every World Cup; European nations will find it difficult to adapt which gives countries like Uruguay an underrated but important advantage.
Outright odds: 30/1
Odds to reach the final: 15/1
I know what you’re thinking. Portugal has an ageing squad has also been drawn in one of the toughest groups of the tournament. Valid points indeed. But would you really ever write off a nation home to Cristiano Ronaldo? No, is the sensible answer to that question. He doesn’t have as much help as his closest rival Leo Messi does with Argentina, but the truth is Ronaldo is that much of a worldly talent that he could drag Portugal all the way to the final himself. He might not have to though, after all Portugal have a solid defensive core with Fábio Coentrão, Pepe and Miguel Veloso. Plus the reliable and versatile midfield engine of João Moutinho, capable of filling any gaps through the middle. They might not be star names like CR07 himself, but all he needs is a competent supporting cast to get the job done.
This year is the year to be brave. Don’t lay your usual money down on tournament favourites and run of the mill accumulators. Dare to dream! There are more reasons than ever to back an outsider this World Cup, put your thinking cap on and make sure you take the value choice, not the obvious one.